September 07, 2007

Poetry Friday: A bit of Browning and a huge delight

A poem for back-to-school season for all parents who teach, guide, educate, explain, discuss, and develop.

Most of the great English poet Robert Browning's education took place at home, centering around his father's library of some 6,000 volumes in English, as well as French, ancient Greek, and Latin. He began composing rhymes even before he learned to read and write by the age of five. Browning wrote the following poem, toward the end of his life, a loving thank you to his first and best teacher. I can easily picture father and young son, gallumphing around the library floor, sofa cushions stacked nearby, surrounded by books and surprised family pets.

by Robert Browning (1812-1889)

My Father was a scholar and knew Greek.
When I was five years old, I asked him once
"What do you read about?"
"The siege of Troy."
"What is a siege and what is Troy?"
He piled up chairs and tables for a town,
Set me a-top for Priam, called our cat
-- Helen, enticed away from home (he said)
By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere close
Under the footstool, being cowardly,
But whom -- since she was worth the pains, poor puss --
Towzer and Tray, -- our dogs, the Atreidai, -- sought
By taking Troy to get possession of
-- Always when great Achilles ceased to sulk,
(My pony in the stable) -- forth would prance
And put to flight Hector -- our page-boy's self.
This taught me who was who and what was what:
So far I rightly understood the case
At five years old: a huge delight it proved
And still proves -- thanks to that instructor sage
My Father, who knew better than turn straight
Learning's full flare on weak-eyed ignorance,
Or, worse yet, leave weak eyes to grow sand-blind,
Content with darkness and vacuity.

* * *

Make your way to Semicolon for today's Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Sherry!

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